The NFL playoffs are a uniquely beautiful experience. Combining the single-elimination aspect that makes March a month of madness and the elusive field of just 12 teams helps ensure the later rounds aren’t diluted by bad teams that got hot. Every team and fanbase has a conceivable path to Miami and the Lombardi Trophy. Some paths are more probable than others, obviously, but each one is unique — making them all the more believable once you buy in.
We’re going to prepare for the month-long journey in a couple of ways: a little hard math to anchor us in reason and a little bit of data-driven opinion on what will be the key or the downfall for each team. We’ve simulated the NFL playoffs 20,000 times, leveraging machine learning (powered by AWS) to give the chances of each team standing on the podium with Joe Buck in Miami on Feb. 3. “Percent” simply means “out of 100,” so if a team has a 3% chance to win the Super Bowl, you are best to think of that as winning the Super Bowl three times if the playoffs were played 100 times.
The 2020 iteration of the NFL playoffs feels a little different. The Ravens and the 49ers shocked the football world by sitting atop their conferences; three of the great quarterbacks of the generation — Brady, Brees and Rodgers — are faced with uphill climbs and many doubters; the Chiefs were the darlings of the NFL last season and have been a secondary story this season despite possessing perhaps the two most exciting players in the whole bracket; and there are underdogs and longshots that have superstars and a “nobody believes in us” mentality that might just take them all the way.
1. The new faces of the NFL
Chance to win: 26.1% (first)
The reason they win: Their lack of weaknesses
Where do we start? Lamar Jackson is the league MVP. Greg Roman has been the second-best offensive play-caller in the league. The defense has done nothing but improve since the acquisitions of Marcus Peters and L.J. Fort mid-season. The Ravens' offensive line has the most wins above replacement (WAR) of any group in the NFL, with Ronnie Stanley allowing the fewest pressures in the PFF era for a tackle. To put a cherry on top, kicker Justin Tucker is literally the only player at his position who is statistically significantly better than a replacement player, meaning when the offense (rarely) gets bogged down in opponents’ territory, there will still likely be points. If the Ravens can get out ahead of their opponents using Jackson and their unique scheme, making their opponents play on their heels for all four quarters, they will be almost impossible to beat, and that's why we have them as the favorite moving forward.
What holds them back: Meager wide receiver corps
There are not a ton of holes on this team, but if the Ravens get in a position where they have to throw the ball on almost every down, their wide receiver corps after Hollywood Brown and his 0.2 WAR is a bit scarce. Thus, if a team such as Kansas City repeats its Week 3 feat of getting ahead early, it might be tougher for the Ravens' offense than it usually is.
Non-QB X-factor: Marlon Humphrey
Humphrey is the second most valuable player on the Baltimore Ravens, and he allows the defense to do what it does best — which is blitz a ton and cover on the back end. Humphrey has allowed less than a yard per coverage snap into his coverage and has intercepted as many passes as he’s allowed touchdowns while breaking up 10 passes. The Peters trade certainly helped take the defense to the next level, forcing quarterbacks to hold the ball longer, but Humphrey laid the foundation for this group, which is again among the league’s best.
Chance to win: 15.2% (third)
The reason they win: The road and the offense
For most, the reason the 49ers might win it all is the defense, but that is neglecting the simple fact that defensive performance is far less predictable than offensive performance. The San Francisco offense is no joke. It starts with George Kittle, who is the best tight end in the NFL and might just be the hardest player to tackle in the entire league — he leads his position in yards after the catch per reception and broken tackles. The addition of true number one receiver Emmanuel Sanders took Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers' offense into the upper echelon of passing offenses. Since trading for Sanders, the 49ers rank fifth in expected points added (EPA) per pass play — which measures how much the average pass play improves the offense’s chance of scoring — and fourth in yards per pass play. Kyle Shanahan uses the play-action fake at the fifth-highest rate and still has his team averaging 9.1 yards per play-action pass, which ranks third. Garoppolo doesn’t need to be a superhero for this offense to score 30, he simply needs to continue the play that earned him the seventh-best raw PFF grade per dropback since Week 11.
While a good offense will travel, the 49ers' win in Seattle last Sunday night more than tripled their chances to make the Super Bowl, as it ensured home-field advantage. They will either face the Seahawks or Eagles at home in the Divisional Round while the Packers are likely to battle the Saints, who own the best PFF ELO power ranking in the NFC. Whoever comes out of the Packers-Saints battle will have to travel across the country as an underdog. The road to Miami could not be set up better for the 49ers.
What holds them back: Trusting the defense too much
What’s wrong with trusting your defense? Let’s go back to the Falcons game, where the 49ers decided to trust their defense and kick a long field goal on 4th-and-1 at the 25-yard line instead of having faith in the offense to gain a yard and end the game. Shanahan was uber-conservative on fourth-and-short last season, but this season he didn’t hesitate to go for it against the Ravens and the Saints, almost winning the game in Baltimore and securing the win in New Orleans. The 49ers are likely to be favorites playing at home all the way through the NFC side, but Shanahan will need to make decisions like he did as an underdog on the road — otherwise, the 49ers could end up with a bad beat.
Non-QB X-factor: Deebo Samuel
Samuel was thought of as a gadget receiver who played the position more like a running back. This isn’t entirely incorrect. Deebo is running over and away from defenders — his 8.6 yards after the catch per reception is second among wide receivers this season and the second-best mark among rookie receivers since 2006 (A.J. Brown is averaging an absurd 9.4 this season). Samuel has developed into a legit wide receiver, making cornerbacks look absolutely silly and providing the 49ers' offense with one of the best third-options in the playoffs. If Deebo continues to play at the level we saw Sunday night, the 49ers will be one hell of an out.
Chance to win: 19.0% (second)
The reason they win: The best quarterback-play caller duo in the league
Andy Reid is the best offensive play-caller in the NFL and has been for the better part of the PFF era. Only New England has more adjusted wins since 2013, and since Patrick Mahomes became the Chiefs quarterback, they are the only team in the NFL that has won more than 70% of their games after treating one-score games as ties. This means that the Chiefs win a lot of games comfortably, and their losses are mostly close, which bodes well for them and fans in the playoffs.
Mahomes, after a slow start, has shown us why he’s the most talented quarterback in the entire NFL, generating a perfect passer rating on throws traveling more than 20 yards in the air the last three weeks of the season. He generated negatively graded passes at a rate that was about four percentage points higher than in 2017, but that number has declined to the point where he’s a top-10 player at his position in terms of limiting negative plays. Eric Fisher, Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Damien Williams and the majority of the Kansas City offense — after a year full of injuries — are healthy going into the bye, so look out for the reigning MVP and his coach.
What holds them back: Defense
The Chiefs faced the league’s 10th-toughest schedule overall — and seventh-toughest schedule of opposing offenses — and produced the league’s 16th-best yards per play allowed after finishing last year ranked 24th. This is the type of improvement that Chiefs fans were hoping for in the offseason — entering the playoffs as a team with a defense you can win with, as opposed to a season ago when they won in spite of their defense.
With Juan Thornhill (ACL) out, though, and defensive performance being unstable season to season and game to game, be careful putting a lot of stock in the improved Chiefs defense, especially against teams with offenses like Houston, Tennessee and, of course, Baltimore. Each of these teams had substantial success running the football against the Chiefs in 2019 — with an average of 206.7 rushing yards against in those three games — and has the goods at quarterback to put up points.
Non-QB X-factor: Tyrann Mathieu
Mathieu has been one of the best safeties in the NFL over the last month and a half, and the Chiefs will need him this postseason — especially with Thornhill out. The Ravens know that throwing to the tight end is about as valuable as it gets in the passing game, and Mathieu is the Chiefs' most important weapon in this regard, as he has generated three interceptions and three pass breakups in the last six weeks.
2. The OGs
Chance to win: 11.4% (fourth)
The reason they win: We get the old A-a-ron back
Aaron Rodgers reminds me of Kanye West — almost universally loved in the not-too-distant past with a new M.O. that has polarized fans. While some of us listen to early 2010s Kanye and watch film of 2011 Aaron Rodgers, we may ask which is more likely to return to us in 2020. The good news for the Packers and football is that I am pretty sure there is a better chance we get vintage Rodgers for three games than anything approaching “Through the Wire.” From 2010 through 2016, no quarterback earned a better raw PFF grade per dropback than Aaron Rodgers. Over that dominant stretch, Rodgers made throws you could only dream of, boasting a 114.7 passer rating from a clean pocket (first). Rodgers isn’t hurt, and he gets to play at home after a week off. If there is any magic left, this would be the time to see it.
Tom Brady: Best QB of the decade pic.twitter.com/5GUD4A10d6
— PFF (@PFF) December 30, 2019
What holds them back: The current Rodgers
This season, Rodgers has been below-average in yards per attempt, despite playing behind sensational pass protection, while making negatively graded throws at an above-average rate. Rodgers used to be fearless — over the past two seasons, he leads all quarterbacks with 98 throwaways. The Packers managed to win 13 games despite averaging 6.1 yards per pass play (16th in the NFL), ahead of offensive behemoths Philadelphia, Buffalo and New England among the playoff teams. This version of Aaron Rodgers is not winning a Super Bowl.
Non-QB X-factor: Za’Darius Smith
Smith came over from Baltimore and has had by far the best season of his career. He leads the NFL with 93 quarterback pressures and is tied for the lead with 38 combined sacks and hits. Smith will likely have to deal with one of the best tackle duos in the NFL if the Saints come to town, and his continued great play — combined with a strong northern wind chill — can help make up for the downturn in passing game output on the offensive side.
|Za'Darius Smith, Edge||Green Bay Packers||93|
|Danielle Hunter, Edge||Minnesota Vikings||88|
|Cameron Jordan, Edge||New Orleans Saints||83|
|Shaquil Barrett, Edge||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||82|
|T.J. Watt, Edge||Pittsburgh Steelers||81|
Chance to win: 10.7% (fifth)
The reason they win: They have the most superstars
Drew Brees, Michael Thomas (maybe the best season by a wide receiver ever) Alvin Kamara, Cameron Jordan, Demario Davis all could be the best player at their position in any given game. This all adds up to the Saints being the most well-rounded and star-studded team in the playoffs. There is also Sean Payton, who deserves the same veneration that Bill Belichick and Andy Reid get with regularity. The Saints rank second in our PFF ELO overall power ranking, in part because our rankings don’t simply look at the final score that sometimes doesn’t tell the whole story. Case in point was the game of the year against San Francisco, where the Saints lost on the scoreboard but played well enough to earn a win in the mind of our algorithm.
Since arriving in NFL, Michael Thomas leads the league in:
Contested Catch Rate
Can't. Guard. Mike. pic.twitter.com/Prxqddm1V3
— PFF (@PFF) December 23, 2019
New Orleans went undefeated with Teddy Bridgewater as a starter thanks to brilliant defensive play and an offensive gameplan that perfectly leveraged player strengths without exposing weaknesses. Since Brees returned in Week 8, the Saints rank third in expected points added per play. And they also have a coach who is not shy about letting his offense steal a possession on fourth down. If all their stars play to their capability, the Saints make a strong case as the best team in the NFL.
What holds them back: The road
It’s hard to imagine a team that was more cheated in back-to-back playoffs than the Saints. After having a Super Bowl berth ripped from their hands by the worst missed call in NFL history in last year’s NFC Championship, the Saints lost out on a bye to a Packers team that didn’t spend a single second leading the Detroit Lions in two hours of game time. The last team to make the Super Bowl after having to play on Wildcard weekend was the Joe Flacco-led Ravens in 2012. Drew Brees is probably the last guy you want to bet against because of circumstance, but not getting a week of rest and then having to play in Green Bay and in San Francisco would keep many teams from celebrating in Miami.
Non-QB X-factor: Jared Cook
The one question mark for the Saints entering the season was who would emerge as the second downfield receiving threat alongside Michael Thomas. Cook has six catches that have come 20-plus yards downfield since Week 12 — that ranks third among all players in the NFL, first among tight ends and first among all Saints players. Cook also has a propensity to drop passes, with 52 this decade (ninth most) and four over the first five weeks this season. If the Saints get the right Cook, they have the ingredients to overcome the tough road ahead.
Chance to win: 6.7% (sixth)
The reason they win: Bill Belichick and defense
The best coach in league history has been the best defensive play-caller this season, even after adjusting for players and opponents. Speaking of players, the Patriots' defense has generated the most wins above replacement of any remaining playoff team, due in large part to a stacked and varied secondary. Stephon Gilmore has been one of the best three cornerbacks in the league and is the fulcrum upon which this secondary is built, at times providing New England with a defense that is almost impossible to beat. Now, it’s very, very difficult to actually win with defense when opposing offenses are playoff-caliber, but the Patriots do generate turnovers (they were the third-best team at doing so in 2019), which offers some hope. They very likely need to score points or create an inordinate amount of short fields for a playoff run to be imminent this January.
What holds them back: The offense
Tom Brady has played relatively well, all things considered, having generated a little under two wins above replacement. However, the rest of the group has been a nightmare. Since being acquired from Atlanta for a second-round pick, Mohamed Sanu has averaged less than one yard per route run and only eight yards per catch. The tight end group doesn’t have anyone with over 0.8 yards per route run. Unless Julian Edelman and James White can turn back the hands of time, it’s going to be difficult for the Patriots to score enough points to win four games and repeat as champs.
Non-QB X-factor: J.C. Jackson
Jackson is going to face plenty of targets this postseason with the presence of Gilmore on the other side and will need to not only prevent efficiency in the passing game, but create a turnover or two to put the Patriots' offense in advantageous spots field position-wise. The good news for New England is that he’s been doing that all year, allowing less than 50% of passes into his coverage to be caught while getting his hands on 10 throws (five interceptions).
3. Have a magical QB who will travel
The reason they win: Watson-Nuke combo
Chance to win: 1.9% (10th)
The combination of DeAndre Hopkins and Deshaun Watson is one of the best in the game, and while Hopkins did not pace his position in any category in 2019, he was still a very efficient player, averaging about two yards per every route run. But the reason they will win is the secondary players they have offensively. Will Fuller, if healthy, presents a challenge to a defense that is not trivial at all, with the Texans averaging more than a yard per play more when he’s on the field. Kenny Stills has been a good addition, as well, catching over 75% of his targets and yielding over a 125.0 passer rating when thrown to. Watson has been one of the more inconsistent quarterbacks in the game, though, with highs that are as good as anyone's but lows that make you scratch your head. After last season’s playoff dud at home against the Colts, you have to think that we will see a stud in Watson come Saturday against the Bills.
What holds them back: Bill O'Brien
Aside from lingering injuries to players like Fuller, the pressure in this game is going to be squarely on the shoulders of Bill O’Brien, who has won only one playoff game in his tenure as the Texans' head coach, and that was a game started by Oakland’s Connor Cook. O’Brien has been a middle-of-the-pack play-caller the last two seasons despite having Watson, Nuke and others, but has been more aggressive on fourth-down decisions recently, which is encouraging. Now that’s he’s the team’s general manager, how will the recent acquisitions of Stills, Laremy Tunsil, Gareon Conley and Vernon Hargreaves perform at home against a Bills team that is built in a more sustainable manner?
Non-QB X-factor: J.J. Watt
The return of Watt to the lineup should be a boost for a Texans defense that has surrendered the most yards per play of any team in the league this season (6.1). The aforementioned acquisitions in the defensive backfield have had their moments, but the pass rush is only 20th best in our grading, while the run defense ranks 21st. The Texans allowed 4.8 yards per carry and earned the seventh-worst tackling grade, something that will be difficult to work with against a Bills offense that, while not efficient throwing the football, uses designed runs with Josh Allen and employs a stable of running backs who can be effective. If they do advance, he’ll be even more important against Chiefs and Ravens teams that put up a combined 65 points against them this season.
Chance to win: 2.2% (ninth)
The reason they win: The MVP returns
For the record, this is not an anti-Lamar statement. Russell Wilson has put the Seahawks on his back this season and should have been the odds-on MVP favorite far later into the season. Wilson has not quite maintained his otherworldly play down the stretch. From Week 1 through Week 9, Wilson earned the best raw PFF grade per dropback by a country mile — he made a big-time throw (PFF’s highest level of throw grade) on 8.7% of his dropbacks, which was more than double the league average. Since Week 10, Wilson ranks third in both grade and big-time throw frequency, but the dropoff is significant and goes to show how important his superb play was to the Seahawks, who lost three of their last four games (Rams by 16, Cardinals by 14 and 49ers by five).
What holds them back: The rest of the team is below average
Even Marshawn Lynch can’t save this supporting cast. We’ll start with the offensive line, which continues to struggle massively. Wilson deserves responsibility for much of his career 40% pressure rate (highest), which is also his pressure rate this season (third-highest) because he holds on to the ball for far longer than the league average. Wilson also endures quick pressure (pressure that occurs in 2.5 seconds or quicker) on 27% of his dropbacks, which is the third-highest rate in the NFL. With Duane Brown hurt, the Seahawks' offensive line doesn’t have a player that has graded in the top 20 at their specific position. Brown allowed pressure on only 4.1% of his pass-block snaps (sixth), while his two replacements — Jamarco Jones and George Fant — rang in at 13.5% and 8.3%, respectively, in each of the last two weeks.
The defense is also well below average, allowing 5.5 yards per play (27th) and pressuring the opposing quarterback less than every team aside from the Miami Dolphins. The result is that Russell Wilson often has to play from behind. Only the Eagles, who shouldn’t even be in the playoffs but are the beneficiary of a weak division, have run more offensive plays when losing than the Seahawks. Wilson needs to play miles better than any quarterback just to win close games, and as of late, the supporting cast is too much to overcome. It will be their downfall if they don’t fix it.
Non-QB X-factor: D.K. Metcalf
This should be Tyler Lockett, but he appears to be dealing with some injuries and removed himself from the Sunday night tilt on multiple occasions. Without a bye to rest and recover, the hope for offensive regeneration falls on the picture of physical fitness, D.K. Metcalf.
Metcalf was targeted 11 times against the 49ers, a season-high, but he didn’t do a whole lot with them. He will need to face some ghosts in his return to Philly, where he dropped three passes earlier this season. If Metcalf can get loose downfield and build some confidence, that might just be the spark the Seahawks need to get the offense going all the way to Miami.
4. The longshots that don’t have a great quarterback
Chance to win: 2.3% (eighth)
The reason they win: Cousins gets amnesia
From Week 5 through the end of the season, Kirk Cousins earned the fourth-highest raw PFF grade per dropback and had the best passer rating from a clean pocket (124.9) — he even won a game in primetime against a semi-decent team in the Dallas Cowboys. But Cousins also went 1-4 against teams that made the playoffs, with the lone win coming against the Eagles way back in Week 6 at home.
|QB||Passer rating under pressure (Wks 5-17)|
For the Vikings to win it all, they will need Cousins to completely forget that he’s never been able to elevate his teammates to elite levels of play needed to beat truly good teams in important situations. It starts with going on the road to New Orleans, where I’m sure no one will remind us of what happened the last time the Saints and Vikings met in the playoffs and who the quarterback was for Minnesota that day. If Kirk and the Vikings can overcome adversity and beat the Saints on the road, then they can beat anybody.
What holds them back: The coverage
The Vikings' defense has been their calling card for the entire Mike Zimmer era, and its one of the reasons the team decided to go all-in on Cousins; pair an above-average quarterback with a great defense, and you should be competing for Super Bowls. The issue is that Kirk Cousins has been an average quarterback, especially when the chips are down, and that defense is simply hard to sustain. The Vikings still have some absolute studs on their first two levels — Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen are excellent, and Eric Kendricks should be considered for defensive player of the year — but the Vikings' coverage unit has been pretty average. This season, the Vikings are allowing a 99.7 passer rating to quarterbacks throwing from a clean pocket (16th). Xavier Rhodes has allowed nearly 80% of throws into his coverage to be completed, and the Vikings' highest-graded cornerback, Trae Waynes, ranks 68th at the position. It’s going to be hard to compete in New Orleans or anywhere else without some ability to slow down the quick passing game.
Non-QB X-factor: Adam Thielen
Thielen has been riddled with injury this season, seeing just 47 targets and catching just 64% of them after a monster 2018 where he caught 76% of 149 targets. The Vikings use two wide receiver personnel groupings more than any team has this decade, and the dropoff from peak Thielen to Olabisi Johnson is a stark one. If Thielen can come back healthy and play alongside Stefon Diggs as he did last season when the two were the best wide receiver duo in the NFL, then the Vikings might just have the playmakers needed for Captain Kirk and his team to pull off an upset or four.
Chance to win: 1.0% (11th)
The reason they win: The organization
In the playoffs for the second time in three seasons, Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott have built a team in a very intelligent way. In addition to stockpiling the offense with John Brown, Cole Beasley, Mitch Morse and Ty Nsekhe, their defense is a top-five unit in terms of yards per play allowed overall and a top-three unit against the pass, despite having a pass-rush unit that ranks only 14th in our grades. Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer have generated more wins above replacement than all but five safety duos in the NFL, while Tre’Davious White has been worth almost half a win himself. Against the Houston Texans, it will be important for every player in their secondary to perform, as the Texans are a top-six group in terms of generating value from the wide receiver position and have a generational talent at the quarterback position in Deshaun Watson. While defense doesn’t really win championships anymore, it can win games, and that’s why we are giving the Bills a decent shot to win (37.8%) and advance to the Divisional Round.
What holds them back: Josh Allen
Allen leads all NFL quarterbacks in percentage of negatively graded throws. He’s limited turnover worthy plays (just 4.01% of his dropbacks), but there’s a lack of accuracy in that passing game that the Bills have to actively (and so far successfully) account for. Luckily for Buffalo, it plays the worst defense in the playoffs in Houston. If Houston is on its A-game offensively Saturday, it will be very interesting to see if Allen can match Watson throw-for-throw.
Non-QB X-factor: Tre’Davious White
White has been one of the best corners in all of football since he was drafted with one of Kansas City’s selections in the Patrick Mahomes trade. This season, he took his game to another level, matching up with top receivers and creating offense with his defense. His six interceptions tied for the lead among cornerbacks, and he broke up another seven passes. He will have his hands full Saturday against Hopkins, and (if they get that far) Tyreek Hill the following week, but how he fares will go a long way to determining Buffalo’s fate in just the team's second playoff appearance since 1999.
Chance to win: 0.9% (12th)
The reason they win: Ryan Tannehill
Tannehill has been every bit the quarterback that the Dolphins thought they were getting when they selected him in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft. He’s leading the league in percentage of positively graded throws, but unlike someone such as Jameis Winston, Tannehill has been the second-best quarterback in the league at avoiding negatively graded throws. He’s averaged a whopping 13.5 yards per play-action passing attempt, while the Titans have deployed him on such plays 29.9% of the time (they ran such plays for Marcus Mariota 33.7% of the time). When Tannehill has been pressured this season, he’s earned a passer rating of 98.4, second only to Drew Brees, while his 122.8 mark when kept clean leads the NFL. What we’ve seen from the Titans' backup quarterback has been truly remarkable, and there’s a case to be made that he’s in the top half of the quarterbacks left in the 2020 playoffs moving forward.
What holds them back: Ryan Tannehill
Tannehill was the Titans' backup quarterback going into the season for a reason. While he was solid at times for the Miami Dolphins, he bottomed out with a 45.3 overall grade in 2018 and has been brilliant this season in ways that are not particularly stable (e.g. play-action passing and under pressure). The Patriots take away what their opponent does best as a rule of thumb, so look for them to contain Tannehill in the pocket on play-action bootlegs hile taking advantage of the fact that he’s third in the league in percentage of pressured dropbacks that result in sacks (31.0%), trailing only Mariota and Dwayne Haskins.
Non-QB X-factor: A.J. Brown
Brown was worth almost half of a win this season as a rookie, turning 84 targets into over 1,000 yards while finishing third among wide receivers in yards per route run (2.67). He’s a field stretcher who can also make plays with the ball in his hands (he averaged 8.9 yards per catch after the catch). Gilmore and the rest of the Patriots' defense had difficulties with DeVante Parker last week against the Dolphins, and a couple of explosive plays by the rookie from Ole Miss might be too much for the Patriots' offense to match in round one.
Chance to win: 2.5% (seventh)
The reason they win: The underdog magic
The Eagles are the lone home underdog playing in the Wildcard Round, which should remind many of the Super Bowl run they made with Nick Foles two years ago. The big difference between this year’s Eagles and the 2017 team is that Foles and company had a first-round bye and were able to play at home instead of going on the road in the Divisional Round as they will have to do this season. The Super Bowl-winning Eagles were keyed not just by some out-of-this-world quarterback play by Foles, but also by a very strong coverage unit. This season, the Eagles have allowed 11 passing touchdowns on throws 20-plus yards downfield (fifth-most) and rank 22nd in yards per pass play allowed without pressure. Carson Wentz has endured a litany of injuries and has run more offensive plays when losing than any other playoff quarterback, but he certainly possesses the ability to play at a high enough level to lead the Eagles on a run — he has the fifth-best PFF grade on those plays.
What holds them back: The offense can’t generate big plays
The Eagles are completely void of offensive playmakers on the outside, and it shows. The Eagles and Bills are the only playoff teams with below-average expected points per pass play. Wentz’s most lethal deep threat is rookie running back Miles Sanders — which is good for Sanders but very bad for the Eagles, who are the only team that has a running back leading their squad in yards on throws 20-plus yards downfield. Wentz is averaging 6.8 yards per pass attempt to his wide receivers, which is dead last in the NFL this season. It is hard to imagine any team winning on the road without big plays, and the Eagles figure to struggle more than any other playoff team in this regard.
Non-QB X-factor: Dallas Goedert
Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham are obvious choices here, but they have yet to run any routes on offense — which is where the Eagles will need to get some exceptional play in order to make a run. With Zach Ertz banged up, Goedert has emerged as a legit threat for Carson Wentz and an Eagles team that uses ‘12’ personnel (one running back and two tight ends) more than any other offense. Since Week 13, Goedert has seven catches gaining 15-plus yards (tied-fifth at his position) and a 115.4 passer rating when targeted. Taking another jump would be a huge boost for the Eagles' chances to go on another roll and become everyone’s favorite underdog.